How to tie dye

Pinwheel shirt in Black and OrangeHere’s a quick and easy guide to washing out the tie-dye you made at Your Creation Station.  We use professional grade, cold-water, fiber reactive dyes in our studio so the colors will remain color fast and bright for many, many washings.  The first step to completing your tie-dye is to let your shirt (or dress, bag, scarf, towel, etc.) soak for AT LEAST one hour.  The longer the better, I let mine sit overnight and recommend you do the same.  By letting it soak, you are giving the dye time to react with and stain the cotton fibers from the inside out.  The fabric needs to stay wet for the reaction to happen so the best thing to do is leave the fabric in the bag it came home in until you are ready to wash it out.

Tie Dye In Bag

Keep your tie-dye in the bag you brought it home in until ready to wash it out.

Once your ready to wash the fabric out (or you just can’t wait any longer to see how it looks) open the bag up in a sink, or tub or somewhere that you can easily clean and won’t be ruined if some dye gets on it.  I generally use my kitchen sink.  Take the fabric out of the bag, remove all the rubber bands and/or thread used to tie the design, unfold your tie-dye and take a look.  At this point, I generally rinse the shirt with water, first cold, then warm and then hot.  Rinse a couple of times at each temperature until the water runs mostly clear.  I’ve found there is no hard and fast rule for how long or how much to rinse before washing and I’ve had equal success running the whole gamut of rinsing a lot to not rinsing at all.

Tie-Dyed Shirt Ready for Washing

Put your tie-dye in a washing machine and wash with soap

Weather you choose to rinse out the unreacted dye or not, you will need to wash your tie-dye before using it.  Put the tie-dye in a washing machine, WITH NOTHING ELSE YOU WANT TO GET DYE ON, and wash the fabric, with soap, as you normally would.  If you have more than one tie-dye to wash its OK to them together.  Although I don’t recommend doing it this way, I wash all my cloths, colors, whites, old tie-dyes, new tie-dyes, or whatever, together in cold water and everything comes out fine.  Once the fabric has been washed, its ready to wear and can be washed and dried with your regular laundry.

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The right tools are necessary for any task or activity, and making tie dye shirts is no different. As with any artistic process, the last thing you want is a disruption in your creative flow. Making sure you have these things ready and easily accessible will ensure a smooth session.

Find a good smockA plastic covering for your work surface is ideal, in order to contain the plethora of color that is about to be thrown around. A painting tarp is a good solution for larger areas, and taped-down garbage bags make great table covers.

Find a good smock or old clothes you don’t mind getting dirty, so you’re not worried about staying clean while creating your masterpiece. Rubber gloves will keep your hands their original shade of skin tone and help to protect them from hot water at the same time.

You’ll need some buckets for your dye baths, one for every color you plan to use. Plastic will work just fine, but may stain permanently. Aim for at least three gallons of liquid for proper dipping capacity.

Rubber bands and hair ties are perfect for making temporary resist systems and will be your most vital tools in making designs. Also make sure you have scissors, a large stirring spoon, and a pair of tongs for removing your creation from its dye bath. A squirt bottle will be useful in applying color with more control than dipping your tied-up surface into a bowl.

Of course, the most important ingredient is the color! There are tons of brands of dye out there, and picking one that is compatible with the fabric you’re working with is important. Some materials absorb color differently than others, so a little research will go a long way and make sure your hard work doesn’t go to waste.

Fabrics like cotton, nylon, wool, and silk are ideal materials for absorbing and holding color. When working with cotton, you can add one cup of salt to the dye bath to enhance the color. For the other materials, add a cup of white vinegar instead. It will be a little smelly but helps to make the process gentler for these more sensitive kinds of material. Don’t forget a box of soda ash to help prepare the fabric before applying the dye to make sure your tie dye shirt doesn’t fade!

Beginner’s Guide to Tie Dye T Shirts Divider

Tying Stripes

By rolling your future tie dye t shirts into a long tube, you can create rows of color with wrinkled transitions between them. This effect is great for sports jerseys or team uniforms due to its capacity for utilizing two specific colors. For vertical stripes, roll your fabric from bottom to top. For horizontal stripes, roll from left to right or vice versa.

Fasten the tube at regular intervals, making sure the spacing between rubber bands is even and balanced. The stripes will form along the orientation of these bands, so plan out their locations according to how important this is to your design.

It’s probably easiest to apply your colors with squirt bottles here, as well. This will give you a little more control in their application and help to make sure you soak the fabric all the way to the center of the tube.

Beginner’s Guide to Tie Dye T Shirts Divider

Creating Rosettes

A rosette pattern is characterized by a series of small, overlapping circles that can be connected through various methods of tying them off. This technique requires a little more planning and effort, but its unique effect will be worth the trouble.

Flatten out your material and use a piece of chalk to plot the points of your rosette. You may want them in a circle or a row, and drawing them will help to visualize the outcome without simply guessing.

Once you’ve got your anchor points, pinch each one with your thumb and forefinger and draw them all together. Use one hand to do the pinching and the other to gather them into a bunch, until you can see all of the chalk dots inside the grip of your hand.

Fasten your gathered rosettes with rubber bands about two inches from the topmost point where your dots are. Use more than one rubber band to make sure it stays tight, and fasten the remaining fabric at regular intervals to make the article easier to work with.

You’ll probably want to apply the dye with squirt bottles toward the end with your chalk dots to ensure the accuracy of your design, although carefully dipping them into a bucket will work as well. Soak the remaining material how you see fit.

Beginner’s Guide to Tie Dye T Shirts Divider

Shibori Technique

Indigo blue tie-dye textile pattern. Editable vector seamless pattern repeat.This traditional Japanese dyeing technique involves folding, twisting, and bunching your fabric with meticulous intentionality, binding it, and typically using an indigo color. The number of patterns you can create with this method are essentially limitless, and you can find at least four places to start in this tutorial by Design Sponge.

One unique thing about this technique is the use of wood blocks as a binding structure to create geometric, tiled patterns with straight lines. Using a hard object ensures consistency in the pattern and takes all the guesswork out of the equation.

Beginner’s Guide to Tie Dye T Shirts Divider


It might be a good idea to tie up your first few articles of fabric before doing anything else, just so you won’t have to work under pressure when creating the rubber band matrix for your pattern and design.

making spiral tie dye shirtsOnce your surfaces are covered and your materials are within arm’s reach, mix the soda ash with warm water in a bucket. Wearing your gloves, soak your first article to be colored in the solution for 10-15 minutes. This step will help to make sure the color is absorbed efficiently and remains as bright as possible when the process is complete.

While the fabric is soaking, prepare your dye baths by filling buckets with hot water. Depending on how saturated you want the colors, begin with at least enough to cover your desired surface area (for crystalline clarity) or fill the bucket with a generous amount for softer tones.

Mix dye with the water based on your preferred results. If the color is in powder form, about ¼ cup for every cup of water should do the trick. Use twice the proportional recommendation for more saturated color, and don’t forget to add the salt or white vinegar depending on your fabric material. Stir the solution well with a spoon (preferably metal) and make sure all solids are fully dissolved before moving on.

Beginning with your darkest color (for multicolored designs), soak the tied up article of fabric into the first bucket. Hold the material in the solution or let it soak until the color looks a shade or two darker than your desired outcome. The longer you leave the fabric in the solution, the darker it will be – when the fabric dries, it will lighten up a bit. This step could last anywhere from a few minutes up to six or even eight hours, depending on the concentration of your dye solution and the desired effect.

Once you’ve completed your first round of dipping and soaking, cut the rubber bands off the article (rather than unwrapping them). Rinse the dyed fabric under warm water to remove excess pigment and help to fill in any areas that are missing color. Gradually reduce the temperature as you rinse, until the water is running cool and clear over your freshly dyed article.

Wring out the fabric gently and wrap in plastic if you’re particularly concerned about keeping as much of that saturation as possible. Otherwise, hang them up until dry and then wash with darks or alone. The first few washes of a newly dyed fabric will bleed, so be careful what you include in the same load! The quality of materials matter here – check out these tie dye shirts for sale to make sure you get the best results.

Beginner’s Guide to Tie Dye T Shirts Divider

What T-Shirt Should I to Choose?

Before we dive into the process itself, you’re going to want to use the right kind of t-shirt to guarantee the best looking tie dye results possible. Not just any shirt will do.

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As you can imagine, white t-shirts are often the way to go. Nothing else will help the individual dye colors stand out better. However, some lightly colored shirts can work well for more unique look, but do keep it mind how the dye will appear against the background. Anything too dark will more or less be pointless.

We also recommend using 100% cotton t-shirts over any other fabrics. Cotton is great at sucking up those colors and holding them in, even after multiple washes. Choosing non-cotton apparel could risk the color fading quickly, or even not sticking at all.

Also, this should go without saying, but tie dying IS permanent. Don’t choose a shirt that you might regret being tie dyed in the future.

What You Need to Tie Dye

  • Table
  • Tarp, plastic sheeting or garbage bags
  • Soapy water
  • Paper towels
  • Cotton t-shirts
  • One bucket for every color
  • Soda ash (a dye fixer)
  • Squirt bottle
  • Rubber or plastic gloves
  • Fabric tie dye colors
  • Rubber bands
  • Marbles, coins and/or strings
  • Sealable Plastic Bags

Water Gun Tie Dye Supplies

Whether you’re looking for fun décor, activities for your kids or cute party supplies, Michaels has everything you need to MAKE summer fun!

  • water guns
  • tie dye kit
  • white t-shirts

tie dye supplies

Lets talk water guns.  We tried them all!

Large Water Gun

  • was great for distance.
  • The entire amount of dye fit into the gun
  • purchased at Michaels
  • easy to fill with the dye kit squeeze bottles

Small Water Guns

  • We liked color coding the dye by putting the blue dye in the blue gun etc.
  • The smaller guns worked great and allowed for more squirters
  • easy to fill with the dye kit squeeze bottles
  • these didn’t hold entire bottle of dye and had to be refilled (this actually was a good thing and slowed down the process
  • We found the small guns at the dollar store
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The long shooter

  • while used a bunch more dye, it gave great coverage (choose lightest color for this one)
  • we had to put dye into a bowl and suck it up into the gun, there was some dye leftover to refill

Water Gun with removable barrel

  • fit entire bottle of dye
  • squirt well
  • easy to fill
  • found at dollar store

water guns

How to tie dye the easy way!

Hang white t-shirts on a rope tied between two trees (or whatever you have). We first had wax paper placed in the middle of the t-shirts to prevent bleeding to the back. The wax paper didn’t stay and the girls loved the way it colored the back!

how to tie dye shirts

The tie dye kit is slick! Just fill bottles with water. Next fill up the  water guns with the dye and start spraying! Be sure to wear gloves!

how to tie dye the easy way squirt gun tie dye

We loved how each shirt was so colorful and different.

kids activities tie dye

It was super easy for the girls to be creative and make beautiful shirts!

tie dye shirts

More ways to Tie Dye!

Make a vibrant beautiful shirt with rubber bands. We love the spiral tie dye technique!

How about turning a tie dye shirt into the coolest tshirt bag!

Did you know you can even dye with Kool-Aid? Check out squirt gun tie dye with Kool Aid

We love Sharpie Marker Tie Dye!

Looking for more inspiration? Make sure you visit Michaels’ blog, The Glue String, to see the rest of the Michaels Makers’ summer fun project ideas.

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